It's Every Canadian Sikh's Duty To Stand With Indigenous People

Both groups have faced the interlinked forces of imperialism and genocide.

On the face of it, it may seem as if Sikhs and Indigenous people do not have much in common. Indigenous people have been settled here for over 10,000 years; the first Canadian Sikhs arrived little over 100 years ago. Yet both groups have faced the interlinked forces of imperialism and genocide.

Now that Sikhs are well settled in Canada, it would perhaps seem tempting to ignore the systemic challenges facing Indigenous people. However, that would be a betrayal of Sikh values and of our own historical experiences. It is the duty of every Canadian Sikh to stand in solidarity with Indigenous people.

Recent months have seen several prominent instances where Sikhs have stood in solidarity with Indigenous people.

International Sikh humanitarian charity Khalsa Aid International partnered with the people of Ahousaht First Nation to launch the Maggie Sutlej Ahousaht Project, pledging financial aid to fund youth programs and search and rescue operations.It was the coming together of two peoples linked by the injustices of British colonialism. The name of the project references the HMS Sutlej, a British warship used to attack the Ahousaht people in Vancouver, destroying nine villages. The British named the ship after the Battle of Sutlej in Punjab, India, where they defeated the Sikh Empire in 1846.

In another example, Sikh community members in Surrey, B.C. reached out to Kwantlen First Nation to include them in the celebration of the annual Khalsa Day Parade. The day is marked by the nagar kirtan ("neighbourhood devotional singing"), whose processional route passes over the First Nation's land. The route of the parade had been known for months, but how many of those in attendance had thought about the land they were walking on?

Following extensive, sensitive discussions to ensure the invitation would go beyond mere tokenism, Chief Marilyn Gabriel was invited to open the nagar kirtan in a first-of-its-kind ceremony. It was a sincere recognition from the Sikhs of the land they were on, and of the trauma experienced by those who knew it better than anyone else.

Both of these cases were merely the first step of what both sides hope to be a deep and lasting bond of solidarity. Both were derived from compassion. For us Sikhs, a righteous action is the one grounded in compassion.

Two cultures shaped by colonialism

Sikhs are in a unique position to empathize with Indigenous people. We know only too well the impact of settlers on indigenous land.

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